Boost coming for NHL data collection

The Chicago Blackhawks' core group can expect continued success in coming seasons. AP Photo/Chris Carlson

The data is coming. The kind of data the hockey community has been yearning for after seeing other sports gather it.

Motion-tracking cameras in every arena that record the movements and speed of every single player on the ice are on their way in the NHL. Maybe even chip-based technology that would help provide real-time data for televised coverage.

We’ve seen it in the NBA, and the NHL won’t be waiting much longer.

“We’re in discussions with the technology companies,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said during a recent conversation in his New York office.

The timeline?

“Not for the start of the season,” Bettman said. “The system has to be up and running. You have to install tons of cameras in buildings. We’re looking at it. It’s a little harder because our game is faster.”

NHL COO John Collins, who has long been a proponent of this technology and bringing it to the NHL, said the league tested the technology this year. It will increase the testing next year.

“It takes two or three years to get a system that is ready for prime time, leaguewide for a full season,” Collins said when we spoke in Los Angeles. “Maybe by the third year we’re ready to go. With all arenas, all the time.”

While analytics fans see it as a great chance to generate data that can be used in new and exciting ways for player evaluation and roster construction, the league doesn’t view it in the same way. There’s still no decision as to how the data will be disseminated.

To them, it’s more about the storytelling. To create new content that will bring fans closer to the game. Especially on TV.

“More connection to the game,” Bettman said of the biggest attraction. “To give fans a greater sense and appreciation of what’s going on on the ice. If you knew that somebody’s average speed was 24 mph and they skated 14 miles and predominately played in this area -- there’s lots of interesting, good stuff. Whether or not the clubs use it for analytics is a different story.”

Collins concurred: “It’s telling stories. Using that in a way to help people understand the game. Understand how great the athletes are, how fast the game is, how difficult it is to be a player in the NHL.